- Common name Kawakawa or Pepper tree
- Botanical Name: Piper excelsum (formerly known as Macropiper excelsum)
- Family: Piperaceae (Piper)
Kawakawa is a native shrub to small tree that tends to grow in low land forests particularly in shady places under a native bush canopy.
Ranging in height from 2m to 6m it tends to take a densely branched form. Kawakawa grows throughout the North Island, and as far south as Christchurch.
Light shiny green on the top surface, but pale flat green on the underside. The leaf veins are prominent on both sides of the leaf, with the main veins being in a fan shape from the leave base with many branching horizontals across the leaf.
The leaves have a characteristic heart shape, with all ubt the young leaves being usually seen “peppered” full of holes, courtesy of Kawakawa looper moth caterpillar (Cleora scriptaria).
The leaves can grow to 10cm across and have a leathery texture. The foliage is strongly aromatic when crushed.
Younger black colored the stems comprised of short sections with a knuckle shaped swollen notes at forming an appearance of stem segments, with the next stem changing direction..
When Kawakawa reaches a more mature form of a small tree, the stems become pale, woody and resembling a bamboo in shape with the knuckles and trunk direction changes much less prominent.
The Kawakawa have separate male and female plants, with both carrying masses of tiny yellow or white flowers on erect vertical spikes among the foliage. The Kawakawa flowers all year around
The fruit only develops on the female plant and develops from the the flower spikes and looking like miniature corn cobs. Colored green, turning orange when ripe the fruit is full of hard peppery seeds, while the flesh is sweet and tasty.
The crushed leaves rubbed on the skin are an effective mosquito and sand flies and are said to be soothing to tooth ache. Leaves and bark have antiseptic properties.
The Piperaceace family to which Kawakawa belongs is also known as the Pepper family, with the most well known being the source of pepper corns Piper nigrum .
Both the Botanical Genus “Piper” and the word “Pepper” are derived from the Sanskrit “pippali,” which refers to the long pepper (which bears a striking resemblance to Kawakawa in the leaf and fruit shape.)
- The Stem, Foliage and Fruit; hikingnewzealand.nz, 01 Jan 2020, Perimeter Track at Wenderholm Regional Park.
- Mature trunk example; hikingnewzealand.nz, 28 Aug 2013, Muriwai Forest.
- Male Flowers: T.E.R.R.A.I.N net
More Photos and information of Kawakawa at Inaturalist.com
- Botanica’s trees and shrubs, 2001, New Zealand Medicinal Plants, 2005
- Crowe, 1981, A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand
- Johnson & Smith, 1986. Plant Names Simplified – Their Pronunciation Derivation & Meaning
- Clarke & Lee, 1998, Name That Flower – the Identification of Flowering Plants.
- Bagchi & Srivastava, 2003, Spices and Flavoring Crops, Fruits and Seeds
- T.E.R.R.A.I.N net